Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sandhill Crane

Yesterday a couple of these birds showed up at my parents' house. Drove the dog crazy. At any rate, we quickly found out that they were Sandhill Cranes, some of the largest and most widespread Cranes in the entire world. They can be found across North America, in both year round and migrating populations. A Subspecies can also be found in eastern Siberia. There are about half a dozen location-based subspecies overall.

Sandhill Cranes are very tall, sporting a body length of up to 45in (1.1m). They have distinctive red caps and grey bodies that turn more brown during the breeding season (like those in the backyard).

Sandhill Cranes live, breed, and feed in grassland and wetland areas. They will eat just about anything, from snakes, to worms, to tubers dug up from the ground.

Pairs mate for life, and live together year round. During mating they practice "unison calling," which is an interesting coordinated duet. After mating a huge nest is built on the ground near water, using any materials the birds can find. Two eggs are laid at a time, and the female incubates while the male guards the nest. The chicks are very self sufficient at birth, and grow quickly (they fledge after about two months). Parents will then migrate along with their offspring, teaching them where to go. Interestingly, around 75% of all migrating Sandhill Cranes used the same 75 mile stretch of Nebraska's Platte River as a migratory staging area!

Because they are so common, Sandhill Cranes on the whole are not at risk. However, habitat loss has can have a massive effect on the species (especially when you consider the staging areas). Some of the southern subspecies are becoming quite rare. The Mississippi Sandhill Crane, for example, has a population of only a few hundred birds.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America, Siberia
Size : Wingspan up to 7ft (2.1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gruiformes
Family : Gruidae -- Genus : Grus -- Species : G. canadensis

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